Sunday, March 25, 2012

Roasting Marshmallows

We have been having nightly campfires to burn up some of our huge burn pile that is primarily a result of last summer’s hurricane. With our visiting college students, we sat around the campfire and talked and roasted s’mores and looked at the many stars that are not visible in Bellevue.
The first night Erin insisted that we roast s’mores using homemade shortbread instead of graham crackers. They were delicious, but they were really rich! After that, we branched out into Special Dark chocolate, standard graham crackers, and different marshmallows.

Our next run to the grocery store brought back strawberry and vanilla marshmallows (from the Mexican food aisle). They were really good and worked well with the chocolate. Then I bought the jumbo marshmallows which are only for the super patient roaster who truly appreciates a lot of sugar. (Some people roast it, eat the roasted section, and then continue to roast the middle.) We also tried the flat marshmallows. Presumably, they are for making s’mores indoors in an oven or even without heat. I didn’t roast one, but watching others convinced me that they aren’t a good choice for fires.

Another day found us at Target where they stock marshmallows in “chocolate royale,” and “chocolate mint.” Who could resist? (I passed on the “cinnamon bun” and the bunny-shaped marshmallows.) The problem with these very yummy varieties was that they were smaller than a standard marshmallow but a little bigger than a mini. We needed to roast several at a time and they got messier than normal.

Finally, we had to roast the king of them all: Peeps. The key here is not to let them catch fire. They need to be slowly roasted to caramelize the outer layer of sugar into a perfect hardened crust. Gerald (below) referred to them as crème brulee on a stick. Sublime. I suggest that we start with refrigerated Peeps in the future. They seem to have very soft centers which melt and fall off the stick before the caramelized sugar is perfect. I’m looking forward to the after-Easter clearance sales to stock up on this delicacy.

If you’re in an adventurous mood, stop by. We have lots of wood to burn and lots of roasting sticks available. While we’re at it, we’ll introduce you to fine dining, country-style.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What's In a Name?

From time to time I use names of places that I realized are not universally recognized by my readers. Here is a short list of common places near here.

This is the name given to the house we live in. Apparently, the first person to live here was Dr. Petherbridge with his family. The house was built in approximately 1880 to accommodate Dr. Petherbridge’s family and his medical practice as well as serve as a dormitory for the nearby Charlotte Hall School.

Long Lived For Come at Last
This is the property that the family refers to as “the farm.” Family legend has it that this was the name of a large tobacco plantation along the Patuxent River. Our property, purchased in the 1940s, is only about 240 acres but was part of the larger plantation. The river is three miles east of our land, so the plantation must have been very large, indeed. One building on our land is said to have been the foreman’s home to oversee the slaves who worked the plantation. We also appear to have an old slave cemetery up on a hill. The only markers are large rocks.

Though many people hear us refer to the vineyard and think that’s all we have, that’s not quite true. Only about nine acres are under vine on the property. We also have limited logging, a Christmas tree farm, and lots of woods. The farm has a rental house on it and has previously leased out fields for corn, tobacco, and grain crops.

Charlotte Hall
This is the name of the unincorporated village in which we live. It spans northwestern St. Mary’s County and eastern Charles County about an hour due south of Washington, DC. It only includes about 5.1 square miles; much of that is agricultural. It also includes two grocery stores, a hardware store, and numerous fast food stops. We are fortunate to have a post office that's not closing. The farm’s mailing address is PO Box 1, Charlotte Hall. We would be sad to have to change that address. We own a book that probably describes exactly where the Charlotte Hall name came from, but we can’t find the book.

This the name of the unincorporated area in which the farm is located. It is the region east and south of Charlotte Hall.

St. Mary’s County
This is the name of our county. It is the southern-most county on the Southern Maryland peninsula. It is surrounded by the Potomac River to the west and the Patuxent River to the east. The southern tip juts into the Chesapeake Bay. I am unsure which St. Mary the name refers to.

Named for Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), the wife of King Charles I.
Though Maryland is considered a northern state, it housed many southern sympathizers in this region during the Civil War. Due west of us (about an hour's drive) is Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mending Fences

Peter and I spent yesterday working at the vineyard. Peter’s dad mentioned a few days ago that he suspected deer were in the vineyard.(see the photo of deer tracks)
That’s like saying there’s a fox in the hen house if it had been growing season. Deer can wreak havoc in no time at all by eating all the tender new shoots. Therefore, the entire vineyard is surrounded by nine foot tall nylon deer netting. Since I don’t believe deer use scissors (where would they store them?), I can’t figure out just how they managed to breach the fence in three locations. They aren’t jagged breaks; they’re usually straight lines. (see photo of broken fence, below)

The fencing is also intended to keep out small animals. Unfortunately, the woodchucks had already set up shop within the fence boundaries when the fence was installed. Anyone who has seen Caddyshack will appreciate the futility in trying to eradicate them. Similarly, raccoons can’t be blocked. I will readily concede that they are smarter and more persistent than we humans. (The gluttonous birds require their own separate fencing later in the growing season.)

You’ll notice the bicycle rims that we used to mend the fence at the creek. Peter’s dad has a supply of old, free rims that he gets from a bicycle repair shop. In their repurposed lives, the rims allow water to flow while dissuading deer and other wildlife from entering the “no wildlife” zone. Even if the deer choose to re-break the fence, they won’t walk on the wheel spokes. We think the solution is fool-proof. I’m sure the deer will continue to make fools of us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Time for a Change

Many years ago my family used to tease one of my brothers because he would tell us he needed a new watch simply because the watch battery had died. In a similar vein, I’m thinking that having a dirty and cluttered house necessitates a move. Okay, he didn’t really need a new watch, and I don’t really need a new house. On the other hand, the fact that I do have a new (loosely defined here) house has opened my eyes to a number of things.

First, the reality that we’re moving across country has inspired us to get rid of a lot of stuff. Everyone knows they have too much stuff, and we are no exception. Peter and I regularly pitch and purge, but we still have too much stuff. I think that’s part of being an American, and I’m embarrassed by it. Peter would say we didn’t toss nearly enough, but I think Goodwill has made a decent profit off of us.

Second, I have found things. I have found missing socks, puzzle pieces, important papers (how did that end up there?), and untold other things. Moving forces us to touch much more of our belongings than we normally would. In the process, we move things around, dust things off, lift up lids, and peer into corners. Some of what I have found is disgusting. With three kids, two cats, and a dog, I guess that was inevitable.

Some found items have been delightful. I have found really funny notes that the children have written. (I won’t share them or embarrass the children here. They get private emails to remind them of their past.) I have found scraps of paper or cloth that bring back great memories. I found love that got buried under the everyday dust of life. And, yes, I’ve found dust bunnies the size of my cats.

Peter has been going through our kitchen cabinets to locate foods that we forgot we had. Luckily for me, he’s an amazing cook who can throw together a really tasty meal using the most unusual combination of ingredients. He does it all without a recipe. I really love that man!

Third, the house is getting cleaned to a degree it hasn’t seen since we moved back in 2000 after a major remodel. I mean all the rooms are getting cleaned and all the windows and all the furniture. It’s amazing. When we moved to Bellevue from Centreville, Virginia, in 1993, Microsoft paid for professional packers to pack everything. (I was seven months pregnant. The packers were a godsend!) Packers don’t know what’s important and what’s not, so they packed virtually everything. I’m sure Peter was surprised to receive trash cans replete with trash already in them! I, on the other hand, am throwing out trash, dusting furniture, and doing what I can to avoid having to throw stuff away as soon as it gets to Maryland. At this point, we have sent three large containers to Maryland. That’s three containers of stuff that is no longer in my way when I vacuum or dust.

Maybe moving is a little extreme of an activity simply to clean and declutter a house. Maybe we just need to reorganize our houses every so often. Pack a room up just to have the experience of seeing everything that’s in that room. Give more to Goodwill than we would normally allow ourselves. Move everything into the garage and only move back the stuff that really matters. Yeah, I won’t do that, either.

And maybe, just maybe, when I’m in Switzerland next month, I’ll buy my brother a new watch.